Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney en route New Hampshire, 6/25/12
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Hampshire
1:03 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Well, welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to New Hampshire on this two-day trip. I have no announcements to make at the top. I will say that I'm sure you've all seen the President's statement about the Supreme Court decision regarding the Arizona law. But with that, I will take your questions.
Q Republicans are trying to frame this as some sort of failure of there not being an overall comprehensive immigration passage these past two years. Your response?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say a couple of things. One, as the President has noted, there used to be very prominent Republicans who were advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, as this President is. That included his opponent in the 2008 election, John McCain, who helped craft legislation for comprehensive immigration reform. It included his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who had a longstanding commitment to immigration reform. Unfortunately, what we've seen is a retreat by leaders of the Republican Party in these past several years from a position of advocating comprehensive immigration reform.
What we saw during the Republican primaries -- and I think the statement that you're quoting I assume is in reference in part to former Governor Romney's statement -- was an embrace of the Arizona law as a model for the nation, a position that hardly suggests a desire for comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform.
The President disagrees with that position as well. So this President's commitment to immigration reform is strong. His commitment to border security is strong and has been demonstrated by his record. And he believes that we need to take steps to provide the kind of comprehensive immigration reform that Republicans have resisted. Congress needs to act. And he looks forward to working with Congress when leaders of the Republican Party are ready to do so.
Q Can I take you to a couple of points in the statement? One of the paragraphs says, "must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not enforce this law in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans." And then later, "use every federal resource to protect the safety and civil rights of every American." Can you expand on that a little bit? What are you talking about doing? What are you getting at there?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously we're committed to the protection of the civil rights of the American people. And while the President is pleased with the decision by the Supreme Court to strike down much of the Arizona law, we remain concerned about how Section 2 would be implemented, and concerned about the impact it might have on -- depending on how it's implemented -- the impact implementation could have on civil rights. But I don't have a specific -- a hypothetical to provide to you about how that could play out.
Q What resources -- what federal resources? Could you give us an example?
MR. CARNEY: I'd refer you to the Department of Justice, but obviously the Justice Department is committed to upholding civil rights of the American people.
Q Is there a concern that this ruling could open the door for other states to pass similar stop and detain --
MR. CARNEY: This goes back to the first question, which relates to comprehensive immigration reform. Our position is that, as the President said, that we need comprehensive immigration reform because we need to address the broken immigration system at the earliest opportunity possible because a patchwork of state laws only creates more problems than it solves. And that has been the President’s position all along.
Q Does the White House believe, though, that you can ensure the civil rights of folks administratively? Or do you think that you need legislation to do that?
MR. CARNEY: To ensure rights that are existing in the law?
Q Just following up on his question --
MR. CARNEY: That's a very -- there is not really a question there. Obviously, the Department of Justice is committed to preserving and protecting the civil rights of American citizens.
Q That's not what I'm asking. I'm just trying to ping off his question, which is he was asking what steps are you guys going to take --
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make about steps. I wouldn't necessarily anticipate steps. The President expressed our concerns about how -- about the practical impact of Section 2 of Arizona's statute, which requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect to be here illegally.
Going forward, we must ensure that Arizona law enforcement officials do not implement Section 2 in a manner that undermines the civil rights of Americans. We are heartened that the Court recognized that detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns.
Q Jay, looking at the Egyptian election, there are some Republicans, Allen West being one of them, who are basically saying that this is -- the result of it, that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate got elected show that the Arab Spring was sort of a debacle. What is the --
MR. CARNEY: Who said that? I’m sorry.
Q Allen West. And other Republicans have criticized because -- and are concerned that Muslim Brotherhood candidates are getting elected or are getting more momentum. What is your reaction to that, and to the characterization that the Arab Spring -- that the President has handled the Arab Spring -- should have been more aggressive in some ways?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure what that means, to be more aggressive. I mean, specificity is required here. The fact is, we congratulate President-elect Morsi on his victory in Egypt’s presidential election, and we congratulate the Egyptian people for this milestone in their transition to democracy.
We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi, and the government he forms to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States. We hope that President-elect Morsi will take steps to advance the national unity, uphold universal values, and respect the rights of all Egyptian citizens, including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians.
With regard to your question and the assertions that you’re referring to, which I have not heard, but are similar to ones we’ve heard in the past, we judge individuals and parties that are elected in a democratic process by their actions, not by their religious affiliations. And I would point you to the comments that President-elect Morsi made, the commitments he made to upholding civil rights, including of women and Coptic Christians -- principles that we very much think are important.
But again, our commitment to the revolution that began in Egypt is to a process that provides for a transition to democracy that is transparent. And we congratulate the Egyptian people on this milestone as part of that process.
Q Is there any concern, though, that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood could set back relations between Egypt and Israel?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would point you to what I said about judging individuals and parties on their actions once in office rather than their religious affiliations. And I would simply note that in his address to the Egyptian people Sunday, President-elect Morsi acknowledged that Egypt would continue to uphold its treaty obligations -- a treaty that is, of course, of great importance is the one that it has with Israel. We believe it is essential for the Egyptian government to continue to fill Egypt’s role as a pillar of regional peace, security and stability. And we will continue to emphasize this message with the new government and structure our engagement accordingly.
Q On the same lines, is there any concern about reports that he may want to restore ties with Iran?
MR. CARNEY: I would say two things about that. We look forward to discussing a range of issues, including our regional security concerns, with the new government. We believe it is essential for the Egyptian government to continue to fulfill Egypt's role as a pillar of regional peace, security and stability.
Now, it is perfectly appropriate for a nation like Egypt to have relations with its neighbors. But again, we look to Egypt to continue its significant role as a pillar of regional peace and stability.
Q Would it be appropriate to restore ties with Iran? Is that something the U.S. would be comfortable with?
MR. CARNEY: Again, it's appropriate for a nation like Egypt to have relations with other nations in the region. The issue that I think we're focused on is that Egypt continue to fulfill its role as a pillar of regional security and peace and stability.
Q Can we stay in the region and go to Syria and Turkey? The Turks are talking about discussing with NATO a response to the downing of the Turkish warplane. Does that warrant -- given it appears that it was intentional -- does that warrant retaliation by Turkey, including military retaliation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are in close contact with Turkish officials as they investigate Syria's shooting down of the Turkish Federal-4 fighter jet on June 22nd to determine Turkey's response. We stand in solitary with Turkey, a key U.S. ally as you know, and look forward to its presentation tomorrow at the North Atlantic Council. We will work with Turkey, and other partners, to hold the Assad regime accountable.
Q So what is their appropriate response?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we're working with the Turks. We look forward to their presentation tomorrow at the NAC.
Q Do you have a preference for a diplomatic solution -- do -- I presume you have a preference for a diplomatic solution.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I think that -- but I'm not going to characterize the outcome of a presentation the Turks will make. We obviously support the Turks and we'll work with them. Turkey is a key ally of the United States, member of NATO.
Q One on Egypt. Are you confident that there will be an effective transition between the President-elect and the military leadership? And can you also explain why the President also called Mr. Shafiq, as well?
MR. CARNEY: Certainly.
Q What was that last part?
Q Why did he also call Shafiq.
MR. CARNEY: I would be happy to do that. I would say that, first off, on the call to General Shafiq, the President encouraged him to support the democratic process and work to unify the Egyptian people, which I think goes to your first question, which is that our message to the staff has been consistent throughout the transition. The military should complete the transition to a democratically-elected government. The presidential election was a very important step on that path, and we have commended the staff and the Presidential Election Commission for their roles in facilitating the election. But it is our position, as it has been, that the process of transition to democracy needs to continue.
Q Jay, just on domestic policy, are you confident that Congress will be able to reach a deal on the student loan issue, and also highway spending?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's a good question. We firmly believe that Congress should finish the job and pass legislation that will ensure interest rates for 7.3 million or 7.4 million students do not double on the first of next month. They have very few days left to get that done. Senator Reid has put forward a proposal that we believe -- that we support.
And again, this is an issue that Republicans at first said wasn't an issue; they called it a phony issue. Others said that it was a distraction from the economy -- as if education were not an economic issue. There's one reason why Republicans are talking about this today -- it's because the President heightened awareness of it, went around the country talking about it, and has placed pressure on Congress to act. We remain confident that Congress will do that, and that student loan rates will not double. But there is certainly concern that only a few days remain before those loan rates double.
Q Can you give us a sense of the President's thinking in anticipation of the health care ruling this week? And what do you make of some of the backseat driving I guess in the press over the weekend about the strategy before the Court?
MR. CARNEY: In terms of anticipating the Supreme Court decision, I can say only what I've said before, which is that the President and his team remain confident that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, and the administration has pressed forward with implementing the various aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to do so.
As for the question about legal strategy, I would simply say that while I sometimes try to sound like one, I'm not a lawyer, and I can't dissect each argument. But I can say that we have confidence in the Justice Department and the Solicitor General and we are confident that the law is constitutional. And while I think that it's important to note that while some in Washington are changing what they have to say about this law and the arguments presented, legal experts continue to believe this law is constitutional. I can point you to a number of references.
On June 22nd, Neil Siegel from the Duke University Law School, said, "In at least two independently sufficient ways, the minimum coverage provision encounters no constitutional impediments sounding in federalism."
On May 23rd, again, not long ago, Lawrence Gostin, from Georgetown University, said the law was, "unquestionably constitutional."
On April 16th, Henry Paul Monaghan at Columbia Law School, said, "The individual health mandate surely passes constitutional muster under settled judicial principles."
We continue to agree with legal experts across the spectrum who believe this law is constitutional.
Q Anything in terms of preparation for a ruling or --
MR. CARNEY: We remain confident that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and we are ready for whatever decision is rendered by the Supreme Court.
Q Is it a disappointment that the Court didn’t reconsider Citizens United?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't had that discussion with the President or others. You know the President's position and our position on Citizens United. I think the far-ranging implications of that regrettable decision have been seen already, week after week. But I haven't got a specific reaction to the Montana case that you're referring to.
Q Does the White House think -- the Democratic votes in the potential vote against Attorney General Holder for contempt?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have an answer to that question. I can simply say that, as I said last week, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General have provided an enormous number of documents in response to the legitimate oversight interest of the Congress and the House committee in question here. The Attorney General himself testified repeatedly about this matter. All the documents that fall under the assertion of executive privilege date after the February 4th date beyond which these documents are simply the kind of internal deliberative documents that every administration needs to be able to keep private in order to allow for a functioning executive branch as it deliberates over how to respond to congressional inquiries and media inquiries.
Q Is it a hard line in the sand, no executive privilege, exercising that right?
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry, say that again?
Q Is it a hard line in the sand, or is it the beginning of negotiations, like we saw in the U.S. attorney scandal that -- they said executive privilege, and then you had an offering of testimony, you had offerings of --
MR. CARNEY: We've been clear that we remain -- the Attorney General met with the chairman of the committee and attempted to resolve this issue. I would refer you to the Justice Department for details, but we remain ready to try to resolve this issue in a way that's satisfactory to both sides.
I would note what the chairman himself said, in conflict with the Speaker of the House. The chairman said over the weekend that there is no evidence -- let me repeat -- no evidence of White House involvement in any cover-up or attempt to cover up this issue.
And I would point you to Republicans in the House who have agreed with us in calling this action political. It's clearly political. It's clearly not what the American people want their Congress to be focusing on at a time when they should be taking action to help the economy grow, to help us create jobs. They should be dealing with the student loan issue. They should be dealing with the transportation bill. They should be taking up the many provisions the President has put forward that economists have said would put people to work now. We hope the Congress does that.
Q Would you provide any kind of -- is there any chance of us, on camera -- showing the documents --
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to -- as the chairman himself made clear, this is not an issue -- this is an issue that the Department of Justice should address. It's not for the White House to address. The Attorney General, the Department of Justice have been enormously cooperative -- provided 7,600 pages of documents, countless hours of testimony. And I know that they have endeavored to try to resolved this issue.
Q Do you expect the President will talk about the immigration ruling today in his remarks in New Hampshire?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a preview for you.
1:23 P.M. EDT